The Path to Thought Leadership Marketing Strategy

Thought leadership campaigns are at the core of any successful marketing strategy, and a key characteristic of successful companies.  They define the business and their products as the premier solutions and their leaders as the go-to experts in their field.  Correctly positioning your company as a thought leader is essential to your strategic marketing plan; regardless of your size.

Detailed below are fundamental steps to consider when defining a though leadership marketing strategy.  They are not meant to be all inclusive however will provide insight and starting points in developing your though leadership marketing strategy.

Carve out your leadership position – what do you want to be known for?

Most companies weren’t born as though leaders; the competency was developed over time.  Thought leadership is an active intent to stake a position in the market that clearly defines leadership; and a commitment to broadcast that position via multiple channels.  Social media gives everyone the ability to create noise broadcasting why their product is the best, and why other products are failures.  But that’s just noise.  Thought leadership requires rising above the noise, positioning your products and solutions as the de facto leader based on the expertise and experience of both the solutions and the industry expertise you bring to market.

Note you don’t have to be knowledgeable about everything in a given industry segment.  Thought leadership requires that you stake out a position on a sub segment of the industry for which you compete demonstrating greater knowledge and insight than your competitors.  If we look at the cloud industry, it’s not that you have to be an expert on the industry, only the segment for which your products and solutions create value for customers.  You’re not going to go up against Amazon or Microsoft for the entire cloud, you only have to go up against a solution stack for which you have competency and can define and demonstrate differentiation like security, analytics, or customer service.

Expertise – You have to know the subject

It can’t be stated enough, you have to know the subject matter.  You need to become the expert on your differentiation in the market place.  What is the specific pain point that your products and solutions fill?  With that in mind, you have to become an expert on that pain point, how that pain point is shared with other customers, and how your solutions are best equipped to solve that problem.

The Voice – not about having the best selling product, about differentiating yourself

Once you have staked out your though leadership segment, you must develop a voice.  Many organizations think of this at how best to promote their products and solutions.  Thought leadership is different.  Thought leadership requires relating to the customer, understanding the customer’s challenges, and offering solutions agnostic advice to help solve these challenges.  It is only through the creation of a rapport with the customer that we become thought leaders, and ultimately turn marketing from a push campaign (delivering product content to customers) to a pull campaign (customers actively seeking product and solutions from you).

Audience – Who do you speak to?

Recognize that your audience is not yourself.  Your audience is segmented across a multitude of axis.  Technical users, decision makers, and even generationals need to be considered when executing your strategy.  How to engage a CXO is very different then engaging an IT director or systems administrator.  Equally, the conversation you have with someone who grew up in the data center is very different than a millennial that has never stepped in front of a rack of servers.  Broadening your message, your tone, and the avenues for which you utilize is determinate on the success of your campaign.

The Avenues – publications that can be used

Thought leadership is earned, not given.  Therefore, you must utilize a multitude of mechanisms to implement your thought leadership strategy.  Examples include social media, industry conferences, personal blogs and electronic publications.  Some examples are listed below:

BrightTalk – leading webinar based content deliver site

InfoWorld – leading online publication features tech bloggers

TechTarget Bitpipe – Leading IT industry content and resource guide

IDG Connect – Leading IT industry content and resource guide

DCIA – Distributed Computing Industry Association weekly email content delivery

Thought leadership is an active campaign strategy that must be employed.  It takes consistency, dedication to the position, and time.

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Technology Marketing to Service Providers

The service provider segment is probably one of the richest growth areas for technology and software manufacturers to penetrate.  Synergy Research just reported that quarterly revenue for Cloud Infrastructure Services hitting $5B with Amazon, Microsoft, IBM, Google, and Salesforce ranking as the top five.  Understanding this segment and learning the nuances is key to your strategic marketing plan.

I’ve taken a quick snapshot of the service provider segment dividing it into sub-segments (IaaS, SaaS, Transaction) to document the similarities and differences based on the segments hardware knowledge, purchase trigger points, and a host of other categories to define how best to reach.  The point is not to create an absolute picture but to lead to tendencies for each of the segments and how best to approach.  Clearly this needs further refinement however I believe this is one of the first steps in developing a strategic marketing plan focused on the Service Provider segment.  From there, understanding where your hardware and software fit and developing sales play to capture revenue is only one or two marketing evolutions away.

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Infrastructure as a Service – This segment highlights the most sophisticated purchaser and may resembles your typical enterprise user.  For most, they are building either a VMware or OpenStack based cloud service and have already identified an incumbent provider.  They are typically concerned with scalability and cost and have an expectation of rich data services.  Trigger points for this segment includes cost of current hardware provider, ability to manage data growth in a scalable fashion, and new development activities / offerings that lead to new opportunities like supporting new cloud OS, STaaS, hosted exchange, SharePoint and new archival and document repositories.  Reference Architectures are key to this segment with whitepapers and cases studies are instrumental in helping them understand how to build for expansion.

Software as a Service – SaaS provider run the gamut from sophisticated infrastructure knowledge to new entrants that are taking a software or service based product and beginning to offer it as a service.  It is these new SaaS entrants that represent the greatest growth opportunities and are the most important to capture.  Although initially cost consciences; as their service grows, their ability to provide the performance and scalability necessary to satisfy growth outweighs cost (growth means they are selling more high margin service).  They need an entry level product that can grow and scale rapidly with a simplified architectural framework.  Entrenched SaaS providers mirror the characteristics of IaaS providers and are focused on managing data growth while simplifying the architecture.  Reference architectures and whitepapers are key however case studies are important to this segment.

Transaction Based Services – The consumer segment can be highly diverse in their hardware knowledge.  It’s important to recognize that for this segment, the infrastructure and software is not their main business.  Therefore, simplicity is key.  In most cases, they are focused on a single vendor solution for providing the platform necessary to facilitate transactions.  This can be in the vein of infrastructure to support an OLTP environment or open-source based compute environment.  They are extremely interested in understanding how other companies solve this problem and look at cases studies and social media for learning.

Final Thought – The key for marketing to the service provider segment is leadership as a trusted advisor.  The key will be uncovering emerging opportunities and positioning your company as the trusted advisor that can help companies navigate growth, while ensuring performance, scalability and cost effectiveness to entrenched users.

IT Marketing – Duh, It’s The Applications Stupid

 

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To shamelessly hack the phrase “it’s the economy stupid”, most hardware vendors don’t get it.  It’s not about your spinning disk, your compute density, or your software defined everything.  It’s not even about your solutions; especially when those solutions highlight your hardware.  It’s about how you can enable customers application.  CXO’s don’t care about the data center.  Well, they do, only in as much as it supports the applications, and the value they can gain from those applications.

The answer is therefore, start marketing to how your technology improves application performance, resilience, compliance and integration.  Does your content marketing benefit the customer’s applications?

The world of cloud has changed purchasing decisions, and purchasing decision makers.  IT is no longer in control; or at least have been relegated even further downstream from the decision criteria.

Ultimately, you need to start marketing to marketing.  They will control a greater amount of IT spend than IT (see latest update from CIO online).  And you best speak applications.

 

Photo Credit:  http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Gorilla_gorilla_gorilla4.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Gorilla_gorilla_gorilla4.jpg

The Autonomous Data Center – CIO’s End Goal

Most progressive CIO’s want out of the IT market, at least the IT market as we have known it for the past few decades. CIO’s desire the autonomous data center; a data center that effectively operates without the constant supervision of storage managers, network managers, database managers, and outlook managers. They want what the public cloud provides, yet on their terms. Employees focused on applications, not servers. Skilled IT personnel focused on workloads, not spinning disks. Ultimately, they desire cloud administrators versed in how IT can respond quicker to the company’s needs. They want out of the legacy architecture space, and into the autonomous data center.

A realistic expectation? Yes, and coming quicker than you might think. If you go back only a few short years and looked at how applications where provisioned as compared to today, you recognize the exponential pace of automation. Many small to medium size businesses run entirely in the cloud. Large enterprises are looking to this model as well; just not entirely public cloud dependent. Data centers are increasingly reliant not on the hardware, but the software. Software Defined Everything. And as software becomes more intuitive, the role of the traditional IT staff will evolve. Ultimately, the software will manage the application and workloads based on parameters of compute, storage, availability, compliance and BC/DR requirements.

Autonomous data center will be a reality. Are you building towards them?

Segmenting the Enterprise Cloud User

Cloud expansion is being driven not by IT, but by everyone but IT.  Gartner predicts that by 2017, CMOs will spend more on IT than CIOs.  Therefore, in looking at how to speak Cloud, it’s important to recognize that you have three very different and distinct customer segments to communicate with (and sell to): Organizational Departments, DevOps and IT.  And these three very different audiences require different messages.  Let’s examine those three.

Organizational Departments – Focused on buying solutions that benefit the business.  Seen typically in purchasing “Software as a Service” applications however it’s much broader.  In the past, it was engineering departments purchasing departmental servers for specific computational needs. Now, it’s marketing department contracting with “cloud based” companies to gain increased insight on customer purchases, assist with Social Media marketing, drive mobile marketing, and manage business intelligence CRM, E-commerce, and so on.  They are trying to find the best ways to market to customer segments like millennials and IT is not their first stop at finding solutions.  Organizational Departments speak solutions, not platforms and infrastructure.  The key conversation needs to revolve around how each solutions needs to integrate to gain maximum value for the organization.

DevOps– Previously thought off as Application Developers, DevOps are a more IT independent group focused on building applications that positively impact the business. Long ago, they discovered that IT was not responsive to delivering a timely compute environment and quickly turned to the cloud for computational cycles.  One of the critical knowledge points to recognize is applications developed on an external to IT environment, often times don’t work “as developed” in the internal IT environment and therefore remain in the cloud forever; no different from applications built on the mainframe decades ago.  DevOps speak platforms for creating solutions, not infrastructure.  Key conversations revolve around how applications developed on one platform will work / integrate with the corporate platform.

IT – Focused on the infrastructure and the technology; not on how that technology is a part of the corporate solution to drive business value.  IT has been in the business of managing the infrastructure for so long, they missed the fact that the infrastructure is second to the applications driving business value.  And those applications don’t necessarily need to live in IT.  IT however is still the logical point for housing many corporate applications.  They ultimately have insight and vision for how mobility, security, and corporate governance can impact and enhance corporate applications and ultimately business solutions.  IT speaks infrastructure, but not necessarily solutions.  Key conversations need to revolve around how IT can become a service to the organization.

Ultimately, IT needs to evolve into IT as a Service (ITaaS).  But for most, that evolution is only just beginning.  Until then, it’s critical that you segment your messaging to each key player focused on their primary drivers and motivation with a view towards solutions integration, platform integration, and ITaaS.

 

 

 

Designing the Private Cloud – Top Down or Bottom Up

In the quest to build a private cloud, it’s important to note how the individual parts fit.  Designed well, and you’ve created an automated, cloud optimized data center allowing the enterprise to respond to the dynamic pace of the changing business landscape.  Designed poorly, and you’ve added another layer of data center controls further emphasizing IT as a cost center, not a business enabler.   

There are two ways to go about the design of your private cloud.  Top down, choosing orchestration component like OpenStack and utilizing commodity parts to build out; or bottom up, utilizing hardware components already in place and determining the best orchestration layer to fit those components.  For many large enterprises, the typical choice is bottom up; utilizing existing architecture and infrastructure already in the production environment and centering on the corporate standard hypervisor and embedded staff expertise.  Others however have shed any preconceived notions of their existing infrastructure and are building from the ground up; based on open standards with the plan to migrate existing application (or building all new applications) to function in the open standards cloud environment.  For purposes of this article, I’m going to focus on the bottom up approach.  Information on building an OpenStack environment can be found at OpenStack.org and will be discussed in a future article.

 Cloud Management Picture

Virtualization-enabled Core Infrastructure:  Embedded and entrenched infrastructure can be the cornerstone of your cloud build.  However, that infrastructure must be able to take advantage of some of the enhanced attributes of the hypervisor.  Capabilities like vMotion, Live Migration, Replication, VDS, vShield, Virtual Switch, etc. are only supported on specific vendor hardware.  If your storage, server, or network can’t take advantage of these capabilities, you pay for unutilized features in both CapEx and OpEx.  Or worse, you pay extra for software and services to make up for the deficiencies in your hardware.

Converged Infrastructure:  A recent trend in the industry is converged infrastructure.  In simple terms, a Converged Infrastructure (CI) allows you to manage you storage, networks and servers as a single unit, from a single console, gaining data center automation and management simplification.  With CI, you can provision a VM from a single console including all storage provisioning, memory allocation and network connections.  This solution though poses the very possible risk of vendor lock-in.  Many vendors sell their version of a converged infrastructure that ties you to their compute, network and storage choices.  They want you to purchase their version of the client-server mainframe.  Vendors need to recognize that customers have entrenched infrastructure that needs to be integrated into the CI, not excluded.  As the consumer, you need to ask how will my existing infrastructure integrate with the CI, and what happens in three years when I need to refresh.  Some vendors currently offer a more open CI while others are moving in that direction.  Caveat emptor.

Virtualization Layer:  The two leaders in virtualization for better or worse are Microsoft (Hyper-V) and VMware (ESXi).  To discuss which is better is to get into a political debate.  Alternative to these entrenched hypervisors, XEN and KVM stand out as excellent alternatives.  Although Hyper-V and ESXi are feature rich and industry leaders in hypervisor technology, XEN and KVM typically don’t have the same price tag associated with them and fit better into a more open standards environment.  For most enterprises, you’re already invested in the skill set and standardized around one of these four hypervisors making the decision easy.

Orchestration Layer:  Quite simply, the orchestration layer, or cloud layer if you will, provides for the five essential characteristics of the cloud.  That doesn’t mean that your cloud must include all 5 to be considered a cloud; only that cloud is made up of at least some of these characteristics.  I would argue though that a fully functioning private cloud comprises of the first three (On-Demand Self-Service, Broad Network Access, Resource Pooling) with only the fourth (Rapid Elasticity) and fifth (Measured Service) being optional.

Cloud Essential Characteristics (per NIST)

  • On Demand Self Service
  • Broad Network Access
  • Resource Pooling
  • Rapid Elasticity or Expansion
  • Measured Service

Cloud Management:  It is only when we reach Hybrid Clouds that Cloud Management becomes a critical construct.  Cloud Management allows for both the management of multiple clouds, and the movement of workloads between clouds, in an automated fashion.  This is really the wholly grail of a strategic, cloud optimized data centers.  The degree to which you can move workloads from one private cloud to another is made possible by the cloud management layer.

 

Ultimately, designing your private cloud is dependent on your entrenched infrastructure and software, the skill set of the team managing the data center, and your future vision.  Whether top down or bottom up, the only wrong choice is status quo.

 

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